October 30, 2013

KUSSMAN: Redefining Romance

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People in our generation like to complain that romance is dead.  No one seems to go on dates anymore and — let’s be real — we’re lucky if someone out there favorites one of our tweets.  This summer, whenever I was out with my girlfriends for our umpteenth singles’ night, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when I spotted a picture-perfect couple.

So when I started dating Mr. Romantic, it was exciting.  He liked cooking for me, hiking together and singing to me.  He wouldn’t hear of rushed dinners; we had to cook with vegetables from his garden, and afterwards hike up halfway up a mountain to eat as the sun set.  We couldn’t pass a piano without him sitting down and start serenading me.

After two weeks, I was miserable.

I had never dated a more exhausting individual in my entire life.  Everything we did felt like an elaborate production.  Lazy days in sweat pants were a non-option.  He always had some exciting outing planned for us (at the end of which I would undoubtedly be sunburned and inflicted with poison ivy) and slowly, but surely, I came to dread them all.

But despite my growing annoyance with the relationship, the thought of breaking up with Mr. Romantic gave me pause. We all have ideas about what romance should be and this relationship fit all those criteria: candlelit dinners, cooking together, long walks during sunset.

Even with all of the boxes checked off, something didn’t feel right; we were both trying too hard.  He was trying to construct a relationship based on these preconceived notions of “the perfect romance.”  I was trying, too — to convince myself these things were exciting, when really I was counting down the minutes until I could go home, watch The Office on Netflix and count my mosquito bites.

Throughout it all, I let myself get so caught up in his romantic gestures that I lost sight of what was really important: Did I even like this guy?

I realize now that if I had really liked him, I wouldn’t have even noticed that the “romance” felt forced.  I also probably wouldn’t have noticed how sunburned I was after our outings, or how hungry I was when he insisted we hike to the top of a mountain before eating.  I definitely wouldn’t have been so mortified when he insisted on singing to me in public. Frankly, he deserved better for his efforts.

My experience with Mr. Romantic taught me that true romance cannot be constructed, because it is contingent on one thing alone: how you feel about the person you’re with.  With the wrong person, grand romantic gestures are empty.

I’m not saying that we should settle for someone who never makes an effort to do anything special for us.  What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be fooled by the show.  If we think that grand gestures alone will add substance to a relationship, we are deluding ourselves.  More likely, all that our preconceived notions of romance will do is make us jealous of seemingly perfect couples that may actually be more miserable than we are.

So if people are referring to our preconceived notions of strolls in the moonlight when they say that romance is dead, then I say let it rest in peace. Romance in its truest form will never die, but it will continue to defy our expectations.

The most romantic moments between people may ultimately have little to do with roses or kissing in the rain.  More likely they take place on a crowded subway, in a frat basement or even in Libe Café.  They may not look like anything spectacular, but they are the rare moments in a lifetime where you feel that you are exactly where you want to be.  And they all involve the company of someone who, with one glance, renders you more complete and less alone.